Sew, Wear Are They Now: Dresses

Moving on to the next part of this series, I’m looking at dresses and jumpsuits I’ve made over the past several years to see how they’ve worked in my wardrobe over time.

2010-2011

I actually started making dresses really early in my sewing adventures, even though I didn’t wear them much. I think that the experience I gained from fitting these garments was really helpful in improving my overall sewing, and I think it’s pretty clear to see the improvements in construction even in the first two years.

  • New Look 6966 was used to make my first two non-costume dresses. The green dress was made out of a very cheap fabric I had bought in San Francisco, and I never wore it much; I hadn’t known about FBAs at the time and so the top never quite fit right and the fabric was always a bit too clingy. I did learn a lot about zipper insertion though! The rainbow birthday dress was made for my sister. I think she wore it on several occasions and actually still has it, though she uses it more as a costume piece now and less as a full party dress.
  • Simplicity 4014 was a total fail in terms of having a vision and it not coming to fruition. I was enamored with the poly chiffon I bought from Jo-Ann and thought this dress would be great to wear to a wedding. After making it the style and fit were all wrong. There was a level of frumpiness that was just unavoidable. I never wore this dress and I eventually got rid of it.
  • BurdaStyle 04/2011 #109 was a last minute replacement for the failed Simplicity dress. I loved this dress! I was so happy with my construction of it at the time, as well as the fit, especially when compared to the Simplicity pattern. I was still new to pattern adjustments, but this was the garment that really convinced my that the Burda block is probably the best one on the market as a starting point for patterns that work for my body shape. This dress is now far too small, but I still have it because I’m still too proud of the sewing on it to give it away.
  • Vogue 8727 was a dress I made for my sister. It uses a ton of fabric, but she loved the results and wore this dress a lot! It was a favorite for her and I ended up making another version of this dress at a later date. I think she might still have it, although I could be wrong.
  • BurdaStyle 05/2011 #104 was a dress that I should have loved in theory but never really wore that much. The poly fabric was always just a bit too thin and clingy on the skirt section for my comfort level, and the fabric was also the sort of poly that is thin, but really doesn’t breath. I wish I’d used this for the top pattern from the magazine that had the same style, or used this fabric for something else, because I did really love the print.

Overall I think the early years show a lot of growth and development of sewing skills, though perhaps not a refinement of understanding how to pair fabric and patterns exactly. The big takeaway here is that I can’t use too thin of a fabric for a dress or I just won’t wear it because I don’t like having things that are too clingy on my lower half.

2012

2012 was a knockout year for dresses for me. I really loved all of these styles and wore them all on many occasions.

  • BurdaStyle 07/2011 #131 was a dress I made because I’d never really had a LBD, and everyone in the sewing and fashion communities talked about them a lot. I was obsessed with this pattern in the Burda Magazine, so I decided to make a version for myself. I made a lot of fit adjustments to get that perfect fit, and I have to say that all the effort was worth it. I didn’t wear this dress often, but when I did I always felt fabulous. It’s been far too small for a while, and because of the non-stretch fabric I don’t think there is much hope of it fitting again. I definitely need to make a new LBD replacement because I don’t have a go-to dress option anymore.
  • BurdaStyle 03/2012 #108B was another dress I made because I was obsessed with the Burda magazine photo. I made this almost immediately after I got the magazine, and I’m so happy I did. I wore this dress a lot! It was the perfect thing to wear during the summer and it was super comfortable. At this point I think the top is a bit too tight around my bust, but I definitely want to re-visit this pattern because I miss having this dress as a go-to summer option.
  • Simplicity 2369 was actually also a very successful dress for me. I wore this to a lot of events and I really loved the fit and style. I’ve always wanted to make an updated version in a different fabric and I should probably consider doing that. I haven’t had much occasion to wear it recently (because Pandemic) and I’d be curious to see how it fits now. I’m expecting that the bust may be small, but the fabric is super stretchy and the faux-wrap top could be pretty forgiving, so maybe it would still work. I need to test it out.

I think 2012 might have produced some of my favorite dresses. I really loved all of these styles, especially because they were all so different! The LBD is definitely more formal, whereas the striped dress is super casual and the floral dress was a nice in-between. These dresses took me to a lot of places over the years and I think this was the year when I really started understanding how to pair fabric with patterns and how to use construction techniques to add structure to a garment.

2013

I was very prolific in 2013 and added quite a range of dress styles to my wardrobe.

  • Patrones 249-4 was a dress I made for a 1920s themed birthday party. It was a bit of an adventure making this Patrones pattern; I was actually sort of surprised I figured out the construction! The dress was, ultimately, far too short and I didn’t really wear it after the party. I’m not sure if I still have this (I need to do a closet clear-out), but if I do I feel like I should re-hem it to make a fun top that I might actually wear.
  • Vogue 2960 was a Vintage Vogue pattern that I made for my sister to wear to her graduation. The bodice of the dress needed more structure, but she loved the style. I’m not sure if she still has this, but it’s a pattern that would be up for a re-make at some point.
  • Butterick 5886 is a dress that I didn’t wear much after I made it because I was so annoyed at my wonky zipper insertion. In hindsight I really should have worn this dress more; the style looks great in the photos. I might still have this, but I’m not sure how well it would still fit; the lining didn’t stretch and it might be too small around the bust now. It’s another piece I will need to assess with an upcoming closet clear-out.
  • BurdaStyle 02/2013 #114 is maybe one of my favorite dresses. I made it from a knit remnant, and I love the style, the fit, and the color. I’ve worn it to a lot of events; in some ways it was my go-to as a not-super-formal-but-still-dressed-up look for a while. I still have this dress, though I haven’t had much occasion to wear it recently. I’d definitely pull it out again and wear it if it still fits though.
  • BurdaStyle 02/2013 #115 is a dress I made because maxi dresses were a trend that were happening in 2013 and because I was obsessed with the February Burda magazine. I really loved the style of this dress and the print that I used. The ties in the back aren’t the most comfortable when sitting for long periods, but I have worn this dress to summer concert events and other things (back when people could go places and do things), so it did see a lot of use. I haven’t worn it in a while, but I think that has more to do with my schedule the past 2 summers than anything else.
  • Simplicity 1801 is another dress I made for my sister. She wore this dress quite a bit – it was a pretty great summer style, and I was pretty happy with my construction. I’m not sure if she still has this, but I will say that dress pockets are great.
  • BurdaStyle 11/2013 #112 was a dress I made on a bit of a whim after I got the November Burda magazine. I will say that I absolutely loved this dress and I wore it as an outfit quite a bit during winter months. I still have this dress but I haven’t worn it in a while (I expect it might be too small now). I need to try it on, but if it doesn’t fit I’d love to have a similar dress in my wardrobe again.

Overall 2013 was a good year for dresses. About half of these were wardrobe staples for either me or my sister, and the other half were special occasion dresses that didn’t get used as much. The biggest takeaways are definitely that I don’t like when my dresses are too short, I prefer some sort of waist definition, and I’m not a huge fan of anything that will be uncomfortable while sitting, so large back decorations or bows are just not happening.

2014-2016

I didn’t sew many dresses from 2014-2016, but I think everything I did make saw at least a decent amount of use.

  • Vogue 8727 was a re-make of one of my sister’s favorite dresses. She really loved the brown and white version, so I made a slightly more formal version for her to wear to work functions. I’m not sure if she still has it, but I do know she wore it a lot back when I made it.
  • This refashion dress was also for my sister. I fixed the neckline to make it more functional and acceptable. I think the dress has been given away at this point though; the main dress fabric didn’t survive very well.
  • Burda Easy Fall/Winter 2014 #4F is a dress I loved in the magazine. I loved it! But I super hated this dress on me. I just didn’t like the style, or how the seam lines fall on my body, or how big the neck cut-outs were… none of it. I worked hard to fit it so it looks ok in the photos but… I really really didn’t like the way this dress turned out. I kept thinking maybe I could find a way to fix it, but no. I think I gave it away.
  • Vogue 9149 was a dress I made to wear to a Broadway themed bridal shower. The style was inspired by Wicked, but also based on fabric I had in my stash. I’ve worn it a few times, but the lace fabric feels too fancy to wear on a regular basis.
  • McCall’s 6752 was a dress I made to really showcase the top fabric. I’ve worn this dress out a few times and always got compliments. I haven’t had much reason to wear it out lately, but I still have it; it’s another dress I need to see if it still fits or not.

I didn’t sew much from 2014-2016, but overall the majority of the dresses I did sew were a success. Aside from the teal sheath dress, the other styles all saw a decent amount of wear and were mostly supplemental to the awesome dress wardrobe I had made in 2013.

2017

2017 was another year with a lot of dress sewing, and also my first jumpsuit!

  • BurdaStyle 03/2013 #114A might be, quite possibly, the biggest disaster of a sewing project I’d had in quite some time. I’d started the dress sometime in 2013 or 2014 after the magazine came out, but, despite doing several bodice mock-ups, somehow manages to make the whole thing way too small. And then the ruching was too big. And then the print was wild, and it just all looked like a sloppy mess. So I abandoned it for quite some time, but returned to it to finish it off as part of the Pattern Review UFO contest. It was finished, but I still hated it with a loathing reserved for a project that used nearly 7 yards of fabric and turned out the literal worst. I can’t remember what I did with this; I think it’s in a box somewhere to be harvested for fabric scraps.
  • Burda 6994 is a dress I made to wear to a wedding. It was actually a really comfortable dress, and I loved the simple style. In hindsight, I should have made the straps a bit easier to get into and out of, but otherwise it was a really fun dress to wear.
  • The Pattern Review Sewing Bee Dress was a dress made for the prompt “all about the sleeves.” I won that round of the contest, but I was somewhat criticized for making an impractical garment. In all honesty, I haven’t had a lot of occasions to wear this dress. I still have it and I’m still really happy with the construction and the challenge win, but it’s definitely not a wardrobe workhorse, though it wasn’t really intended to be. The ironic thing is that I was actually really annoyed at this challenge when it was announced because I wasn’t a big fan of the giant sleeve trend. I always felt like it was really impractical, so I ended up making an impractical garment for the challenge.
  • Vogue 1524 is the only jumpsuit I’ve made thus far and it was made for the fourth stage of the Sewing Bee. While there are aspects of this jumpsuit that I like (the fabric is a fabulous color and the open back looks amazing), it’s not an easy piece to wear. I needed to create a special bra to wear under this because of the open back, which I ran out of time to do during the competition. I also (stupidly) made the crotch curve too small, so the pants were always a bit tight and not the most comfortable to sit in. I also had to make this during the week we had to evacuate our house due to a wildfire, so the construction was a bit rushed and I omitted details like welt pockets because I just didn’t have time and I was sewing at crazy hours just to get it done. It’s not my best bit of sewing and I haven’t really worn it much after the competition. I think that at this point, I’m honestly not that interested in trying to figure out weird undergarment solutions because I’m just too lazy to deal with it. I still have this, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fit at this point since it was pretty snug when I made it to begin with.
  • The Closet Case Nettie Dress was a dress I made because I had bought the yellow fabric as a remnant and thought it would look good as this style of dress, but also because I had use the Nettie as a base pattern for the red Pattern Review dress and I wanted to make a more versatile version. While I loved the way this dress looked in photos, I never really had much of a place to wear it. Yellow also isn’t my favorite/best color, so it’s not something I gravitate towards when I’m making clothing choices. I’m hoping that my more recent wardrobe planning efforts will mitigate this sort of issue in the future.
  • BurdaStyle 12/2017 #120 is a dress I made for the holidays. I actually really loved the style, but the fabric just felt sort of cheap (it might not look that way on camera, but in person it wasn’t a nice fabric to wear). I wish I’d just used a solid velvet without the print; I think I would have enjoyed wearing it a lot more that way. It’s a style I would consider re-making in a different fabric because I think the dress pattern itself is really elegant. I still have it, but I never pull it out.
  • BurdaStyle 11/2015 #113 was another dress I made for a holiday party. I wish I’d had the forethought to get some sort of smoothing under garments before wearing this, but overall I really like this dress. I’d like to say that I’ve worn it a lot, but I just haven’t had that many opportunities. At this point I expect it will be a bit tight, but if I can get back to where it would fit again, I would definitely wear it.
  • New Look 6298 was a dress I made because I wanted an easy knit dress to wear over leggings in the winter. I actually wore this dress a lot. It’s super comfortable and stretchy, and it’s perfect for days when you need to layer. I didn’t pull it out at all in 2020, but if it still fits I’d easily wear it again.

I honestly can’t believe how many dresses I sewed in 2017 – it was a lot! I have to admit though that most of them were for a fantasy life I don’t really lead. I did had occasion to wear most of them at one point or another, but aside from the teal knit dress I didn’t wear any of these garments at a level that could be considered as a “wardrobe staple.” I think 2017 was a real turning point for me in terms of construction though. Aside from the purple floral dress (which was really more of a UFO project anyway), my garment construction was much more consistent than it had been in previous years. The biggest issue with these garments was the style (they were all too fancy for my life) and not as much with fit or poor fabric choice. The biggest takeaways are that I’ve hit that point in my life where I can’t be bothered to deal with clothes that require my undergarments to be miraculous feats of engineering to stay in place, and that I really don’t need 5 million ballgowns in my life.

2018

I only made one dress in 2018, but I’ve actually worn it a surprising number of times.

  • Burda World of Fashion 03/2007 #126 is the only dress I’ve made in the past 3 years, but it has totally been worth it. I’ve worn this dress to several weddings and I really love how the dress fits. I’d had the lace in my stash for quite some time, and I think this really was the perfect use for it. Of course, I still have this dress, though I haven’t had much occasion to use it over the past year and a half.

I guess it makes sense that after a year of sewing so many fancy dresses and party outfits that I wouldn’t need to make a lot in the following years. I do seem to really like using lace with a contrasting fabric though – I’m usually quite fond of how those styles turn out.

Conclusions

Looking at all of the dresses I’ve made over the past few years has given me a few insights…

  • In general I tend to sew fancier dresses, which sort of makes sense because I don’t usually wear them day to day. I tend to prefer separates, so when I make a dress it’s for an occasion. However, the more casual dresses definitely have seen much more use than the fancier dresses, so that’s something to consider.
  • I’ve sewn a pretty even mix of knit and woven dresses. I think I’ve tended to wear the knit ones more often, but I know my sister wore the woven ones I made for her a lot, so I think it comes to style and personal preference on that.
  • I really like lace and prints for dresses. While the more formal styles I’ve gone for more solid fabrics, in general I’ve like sort of organic prints, lace, and textures. These all seem to be part of the dresses I’ve worn more often; the simpler dresses usually aren’t my favorites except for more formal occasions.
  • I think my sense of how to pair fabric and patterns has improved over time, and I’ve also gotten better and identifying which sorts of fabrics I like to wear.
  • As with tops, I’m over things being too fussy to wear easily. There are lots of great patterns and styles that don’t need to be complicated to look great. I also really hate when the dress is too short. I’ve gotten better at looking at the print patterns and measuring the pattern pieces though.
  • I think I need more jumpsuits. I actually have one as part of my current sewing plans; hopefully I’ll have a more practical jumpsuit soon!
  • I need more maxi dresses in fun prints.
  • I need to remake a lot of the styles that had fabric fails or have been used to death. These are probably some of the best silhouettes for me, but I never wear them because of the fabric, or I’ve worn them so much they need to be replaced.
  • In general I think I’ve stayed with a pretty simple color palette on dresses; because I tend to make and wear them I’ve generally stayed with my “safe” colors. One bright yellow dress notwithstanding.
  • Overall I think that Kibbe’s Soft Natural recommendations actually do work really well for me. The best silhouettes do tend to be flowing and draped with loose waist emphasis, or straighter in silhouette, or the sort of fluffy cocktail dresses with fitted bodices that I’ve made several times. Anything too fussy, stiff, or geometric just never ended up being my go-to favorite. I probably like a bit more trim and sparkle near my face than he would approve of, but he also says that’s fine for evening wear, so, whatever, I’m going with it.

I do have to say that, in general, I don’t tend to wear dresses that often, although I’ll pull one out every once in a while during the really hot summer days or during the fall when I want to layer. I will say that I do tend to wear a lot of the dresses that I sew in general though, even if it is just to the one special event for which they were made. In terms of use vs. the time to construct them, my dresses probably aren’t the best bang for the buck, but on the other hand, compared to the time that would have been spent dress-shopping, it’s much preferable, and probably much less expensive. As seems to be a running theme with this series, (at the time of this writing) I definitely need to do a proper closet clear-out and figure out what’s going to work for me and what isn’t. If I was able to wear every garment in my current wardrobe, I probably would need to work on adding some more casual and work appropriate options to my current wardrobe, but I’m probably good on fancy dresses for the moment. I mean, where are we even going to go? Moving forward I think I want to focus more on casual dresses and knit dresses; I actually tend to wear these more than I think I do, so they would be good wardrobe additions in the long run. Overall though, looking back at all the dresses I’ve made has brought up some pretty happy sewing memories. I think the dress category might have some of my best quality sewing in it, and I’m really pleased to have had so many lovely garments to wear which never would have been possible if I hadn’t started sewing.


8 thoughts on “Sew, Wear Are They Now: Dresses

  1. Wow you’ve sewn lots of dresses (and nice that you’ve made so many for your sister too.)
    I’m not much of a dress person these days, though had a point a few years back when I wore self sewn knit dresses with a jacket for work especially in the summer.
    During lockdown I did experiment with knit dress + leggings + ankle boots and found it was comfortable and practical.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fascinating! Maxi dresses really suit you. It’s very interesting to see you in a range of colours. You look great in blue, as you know. I don’t think you normally wear a lot of brown but the two brown toned dresses look very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve made some beautiful dresses! Like you, I started out sewing making lots of special occasion dresses I now can’t fit into. Maybe someday when I have more time I’ll attempt a similar series to see what I can learn.

    It was interesting to learn why you sew so much Burda. I know what you mean about finding a block that fits your proportions. I’m like that with Jalie patterns.

    Also, got to second how good you look in the brown dresses!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s too bad what you say about the yellow bodicon dress not being very wearable; it is my favorite of this bunch! The color is quite good on you, too (not many people out there can wear a bright yellow like that, but it just makes you glow in the pictures). The McCall’s “separates” dress and the black-and-white faux wrap Simplicity dresses are also great.

    Liked by 1 person

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